“Among You Stands One Whom You do not Know”

Jul 6th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” (St. Luke 24:31)

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (St. John 15:18)

The Supper at Emmaus
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1620)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Those who claim that Christ is “our present experience of life-giving love that transcends the human condition,” had they lived in Jerusalem from AD 30-33, would have looked upon the man from Nazareth and seen at most only a rabbi who teaches us about the Christ-experience and through whose illumination we can encounter the Christ-experience. They would have been utterly scandalized by His claim to be God, but more likely they would have treated it as a mere metaphor, or as an invitation to us all to join him in discovering our own inner divine identity. They would have been many things rolled into one: Ebionites, because for them the rabbi from Nazareth was a mere man. They would have been Docetists, because for them the transcendent Christ-experience is not to be identified with any particular human being, though they grant that at one time in history the transcendent Christ-experience was most seemingly present in the rabbi from Nazareth. For them the true universal and timeless Christ-experience did not actually become, and could not become, this Nazarene, but is already subconsciously within every person, to be encountered concretely through inner exploration and deepening self-consciousness. They would have been Nestorians, because for them the teacher from Nazareth came to an inner harmony of self-discovery, and thus became for us a channel, one among many, in which we may encounter within us by transcendental enlightenment the one divine Christ-experience of loving self-awareness. They would have been monophysites, because for them the transcendent Christ-experience has no animal nature or physical body, but is the universal energy of divine love which we encounter within ourselves by abstracting ourselves from matter, the senses and our animal pole. In that way they would have denied Christ’s human nature. They would have been monothelitists, for whom the teaching of the rabbi from Nazareth is neither authoritative nor infallible, but through whose enlightenment we too might encounter the all-embracing volitional dynamism of the trans-personal Christ-consciousness. They would have been iconoclasts, ridiculing those who revered His image as entirely missing the point, as mistaking the man for His spiritual message, and in doing so detracting from the attention due to the divine Christ-experience.

If they have called the head of the house ‘Beelzebub,’ how much more shall they call them of his household?” (St. Matthew 10:25)

Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” (St. John 16:2)

Those who think that the “holy catholic Church” referred to in the Apostles’ Creed is “the invisible communion of all those who believe in Christ” look upon the Catholic Church, and see at most only an institution that teaches men about Christ and through whom people may experience Christ. They are utterly scandalized by the Catholic Church’s claim to be the “holy catholic Church” of the Creed, or they treat it as a mere metaphor, a physical example of that creedal ideal toward which we all are striving. They are ecclesial Ebionites, because for them the Catholic Church is a merely man-made institution. They are ecclesial Docetists, because for them the “holy catholic Church” is not to be identified with any particular ecclesial body on earth, though they may grant that at one time in history the “holy catholic Church” was most seemingly present in the Catholic Church. For them the resurrected and glorified Christ did not literally become, and could not become, the Head of the Catholic Church, but is Head rather of a spiritual community to which are invisibly joined all believers by an inner movement of faith. They are ecclesial Nestorians, for whom the Catholic Church developed her own unique spirituality, and thus became for us a channel, one among many, through which we may encounter the message and life of the divine Christ. They are ecclesial monophysites, because for them the “holy catholic Church” is no unified visible hierarchy, identifiable body or particular institution, but is a universal and invisible union of all believing souls with the invisible Christ, a union we encounter not through matter or the senses, but within ourselves through an inner act of the will, a trusting prayer of faith that rests and receives. They treat the Church as having only a spiritual nature, hence an invisible communion of believers united spiritually, not necessarily visibly. By denying the visible hierarchical unity that is essential to a human society, ecclesial monophysitism drops the human nature of the Church, and retains only the divine nature of the Church. They are ecclesial monothelitists, for whom the Catholic Church’s binding and loosing, teaching and disciplining are merely that of the will of men, and not also that of the will of Christ Himself, the Head of His Mystical Body. They are ecclesial iconoclasts, ridiculing those who revere the Catholic Church as the living image of Christ the Head as entirely missing the point, as mistaking a merely human thing for the spiritual message it teaches, and in doing so detracting from the attention due to the invisible Christ.

… she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” (St. John 20:14)

among you stands One whom you do not know.” (St. John 1:26)

Where is Christ’s Church? It is right in front of us. We have not recognized it, because her members have no form or majesty that we should look at them. They are in other respects quite ordinary. But there is something unique about Christ’s Church, something that characterized the Man from Nazareth:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.” (Acts 7:54)

To find the Man from Nazareth, we could have followed the hate, loathing and rage; it would have led us right to Him. Likewise, to find His Body today, follow the same. Notice the direction that the anger and hate is oriented, and follow it to its object.

And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” (St. Luke 17:37)

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  1. “Where is Christ’s Church? It is right in front of us. We have not recognized it, because her members have no form or majesty that we should look at them. They are in other respects quite ordinary. But there is something unique about Christ’s Church, something that characterized the Man from Nazareth:

    “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

    “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.” (Acts 7:54)

    To find the Man from Nazareth, we could have followed the hate, loathing and rage; it would have led us right to Him. Likewise, to find His Body today, follow the same. Notice the direction that the anger and hate is oriented, and follow it to its object.

    And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” (St. Luke 17:37)”

    Powerful. Thank you.

  2. Awesome stuff! How much influence did Vladimir Solovievs writings influenced you regarding this post?

  3. Thanks Renee and Tap. I wasn’t thinking about Soloviev when I wrote this, although I’m sure his work is influencing me, because he helped me see the underlying unity behind each of the first seven ecumenical councils, and behind the heresies of the first eight centuries. I came away from Soloviev with a much better view of the theological battle lines between orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

    But this present post was prompted by two things. One was the following paragraph from my ecclesial deism article:

    Just as men looked upon Christ’s physical body and doubted that this physical body was truly God, so throughout the history of the Church men have looked upon the Catholic Church and doubted that this is truly the Mystical Body of Christ. And then, having construed Her as a mere human society, their lack of faith begot further doubt, and they succumbed to ecclesial deism, and the confusion and blindness that is the result of not recognizing the Church.

    The other was from reading Bishop Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. (Spong, for those who don’t know, is an Episcopalian bishop who is very theologically liberal.) While reading this book, I started to see some relations between the way Spong conceives of Jesus, and the way many non-Catholics conceive of the Church. That was startling, and disturbing. And so I decided to lay out the parallel. Many who would never think of treating Jesus as Spong does, seem not to realize that they are doing the same thing to His Mystical Body.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. Reminds me of Bishop Sheen’s gem-
    “If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would
    look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would
    look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if
    Christ is in any one of the churches in the world today, He must still be hated as He was
    when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church
    that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church which is hated by the world,
    as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind
    the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and of never having learned. Look for
    the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He
    came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord
    was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church
    which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of GOD as men crucified
    Christ and thought they had done a service to GOD. Look for the Church which the world
    rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called
    Himself The Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was
    rejected by men. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions,
    its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its
    Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of
    the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is
    other-worldly it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only
    that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church
    is Divine.”

  5. In Acts 5:38-39 Gamaliel said the following to the Council regarding the Apostles:

    So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.

    Gamaliel’s advice is often taken as synonymous with “just ignore them.” Explicitly, he provides a dilemma, but as I argue below, implicitly he provides a quadralemma. The explicit dilemma is based on the binary truth that the plan and activity of the Apostles is either of God or is not of God. His reasoning goes like this. If the plan or activity of the Apostles is of God, then if we oppose it we will be opposing God, which is vanity, and will result in our being overthrown. But if the plan or action of the Apostles is not of God, then it must be of men, in which case it will soon be overthrown anyway, for what is of men cannot ultimately stand. Implied here are two reasons not to oppress the Apostles: (a) we might possibly be found to be fighting against God, and (b) even if it turned out that we were not fighting against God, our oppression of these men would be unnecessary anyway, because this movement would run its course and fade into extinction.

    But hidden in that explicit dilemma is a quadralemma. Gamaliel has given them an explicit dilemma under the option of fighting against the Apostles: either that fighting will be against God, and thus futile, or it will be not against God, and thus unnecessary. That leaves open the option of not fighting against the Apostles. But there is another dilemma implicit under the non-fighting option. Gamaliel could not have said what he said if he did not consider it possible for the plan or activity of the Apostles to be “of God.” But when one believes that a plan or activity could be of God, the third option, ignoring that plan or activity, is not a reasonable option because if the plan or activity is of God, then one has an obligation to join it, and not remain separated from it. Hence while Gamaliel seems to be suggesting the “just ignore them” option, that isn’t truly an available option, given the possibility that the plan or activity is of God, and therefore the hidden fourth option is to observe and study this plan or activity to see whether it is from God. The problem with this fourth option is that the Council’s prior actions in the book of Acts had been opposed to it, because although knowing that supernatural miracles were being done through and for the Apostles, they had nevertheless imprisoned the Apostles. So this option would require them to admit that they had mistreated the Apostles without first determining whether the Apostles’ activity was of God. Hence Gamaliel hides this fourth option under the third.

    So the horns of the quadralemma are as follows: (1) fight against them, and be found fighting against God, which is futile, (2) fight against them, when it is of men, which is needless, (3) ignore them, when they might be of God, which is foolish, and (4) study them, to see whether they are of God, and thus admit our prior persecutory actions were wrong.

    This same quadralemma continues to apply today for those who do not know whether the Church Christ founded and built on the Apostles is of God. But given that Christ did found a Church and that the gates of hell cannot prevail against her, (a) those who fight against her become, in spite of themselves, means by which she advances, for God never wastes evil, (b) those who ignore her find that she overtakes them unawares, and are defenseless against her advance over their man-made kingdoms, and (c) those who search her out and serve her share in her glory. Gamaliel’s advice is thus not merely a single negative, that is, do not be found fighting against the work of God. For Christians his advice entails two more imperatives: first, another negative, that is, do not be found ignoring the Church Christ founded, and second, an implicit positive, you absolutely must engage in the second-order activity of determining where is the Church Christ founded, so that you do not end up either ignoring her or fighting against her. Not searching her out is not an available righteous and rational option.

  6. To be united to Christ is to be united to the whole Christ, not only to a part of Christ. When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, for example, we receive his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. In being united to His humanity, we are not only united to His post-resurrection humanity; we are also united to Christ-in-His-Passion, Christ-on-the-cross. And hence we too suffer with Him. But our union with Christ’s humanity is not limited to the temporal period at the end of His earthly life. It includes His childhood, His infancy, and even His nine months in the womb. To claim that in being joined to Christ’s humanity we are only joined to some temporal portion of the life of Christ, particularly the end of His life, would, as in the heresies discussed in the article above, deny that this Christ to whom we are joined is the same Christ who was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. To be baptized into Christ, and thereby united to Him, is thus to be joined to Christ-in-the-womb-of-the-Virgin-Mary, not only to Christ-outside-the-womb.

    Now if the Christian is through baptism united to Christ-in-the-womb-of-the-Virgin-Mary, even made one Body with Him through baptism, then not only is she the Mother of the Head of the Mystical Body, but she is the Mother of the Mystical Body, and is therefore my Mother because I am part of the Mystical Body of Christ. The Christ to Whom I am united through baptism is also Christ-in-the-womb, and thus is directly connected biologically to the Virgin Mary. I too, united to this Christ through baptism, am through this union also connected biologically to the Virgin Mary, because I am one with Christ, not only Christ-outside-the-womb, but also Christ-in-the-womb, and Christ-in-the-womb is nourished from her own blood. Because of our union with Christ, the Christian therefore stands to Mary as Christ-in-the-womb stands to Mary. That is, the Christian is, through union with Christ, within and nourished by the womb of the Virgin Mary. As Christ is the fruit of her womb, so is the Christian, who is Christian through union with Christ. As one cannot be a Christian without union with Christ, and Christ is the fruit of her womb, so one cannot be a Christian without being the fruit of her womb through union with Christ. Her spiritual maternity corresponds to her physical maternity, through our union with Christ.

    To be united to Christ is thus to be united to the Holy Family. So the Church is related to Mary as Christ is related to Mary. That sect or schism which severs its relation to Mary severs its relation to Christ. Those who embrace Mary as their mother through Christ, find themselves joined to Christ’s Body in the womb of the Virgin Mary, because to be united to Christ is not only to be united to Christ-outside-the-womb, but also to Christ-in-the-womb-of-the-blessed-Virgin.

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